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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

The Fixx (and How to Get it): Part I

Part I: The Secret Shame of Shag Carpet Burns

Genesis / The Sign

“All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it.”
Jean Cocteau

Whenever I hear a song by Genesis – or even, for that matter, when I see an ad for that Tarzan cartoon with the Phil Collins soundtrack – there is an immediate flash of electricity connecting two nodes in my brain, and a very specific event is recalled.

Eric, Paul, Matt and I are standing in line outside the Tacoma Dome in the middle of the night. It is very cold, and we are very tired. The electrical Tacoma Dome sign is displaying the names and dates of upcoming events, so that if you were driving past the Tacoma Dome at 2AM, you could be alerted to the fact that the International Motocross Super Jam would take place on November 12th, and mentally budget for four tickets, or possibly even the Schuck’s Auto “Family Pit Pass” for an extra twenty-four dollars.

Teeth chattering, too exhausted and defeated to do anything else, we watch listlessly as the calendar of events reaches its end and cycles back to the beginning. The name of tonight’s concert spells out on the massive sign above us, one letter at a time. Viewed from a certain angle, I’m sure a visual correlation could be made between the group of us gazing up at the Tacoma Dome sign, and those chimps gazing up at the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

As each letter winks into existence, Eric reads it aloud:

“G… E… N… ”

“Eric, cut it out.”

“E… S…”

“Eric, for God’s sake, can you – ”

“G… E… N… E… S… I… S…” Eric reads aloud, methodically, as though afraid to miss a letter and thereby lose the thread. Suddenly, he whips around to face us, eyes bright with excitement (and lack of sleep).

“Hey, you guys!” Eric shouts with barely-contained glee, “I think GENE SISKEL is going to be here tonight!”

My point: There is a direct neuron connection between the part of my brain holding information labeled “Genesis (progressive rock group)” and the part holding information labeled “Eric reads Tacoma Dome sign and makes ‘Gene Siskel’ joke.” I cannot think of one without the other. Music has the uncanny power to recall people, events, physical ecstasy or emotional trauma, all with visceral immediacy.

Well, it does for me, at any rate – I haven’t done any actual “research” on this.

“In memory everything seems to happen to music.”
Tennessee Williams

The music of my high school years in particular is heavily laden with memory cargo. For example, I can’t hear anything by the Kinks without revisiting a tense conversation with my dad wherein I tried to get his permission to go see a band that sang catchy songs about transvestites.

The Cars / Tristan Tryst

“Neither should we overlook the worldly spirit of wild abandonment often associated with today’s music and musicians… At such performances alcohol and drugs are usually taken in freely. Additionally, the music and actions of the performers engender a spirit of wild abandonment. Clearly, the type of music played on such occasions, along with elements including demonism, drugs and violence, can only be debasing.”
“Beware of Music That Debases”
“Watchtower” magazine, 10/15/83

I can’t hear “Let’s Go,” “Best Friend’s Girl,” or anything else by the Cars without drifting into a blissful reverie, recalling that glorious night at the Seattle Coliseum, making out with Tristan while Wang Chung, opening for the Cars, played all two of their hit songs plus a cover of “Take Me To The River.” Which is weird; you would think that my sense-memories of fevered groping would be triggered by the music of Wang Chung, since they were playing at the time of the fevered groping, but no; it isn’t logical like that. You say, “Ric Ocasek,” and my brain pulls out the index card for “dry-humping under the bleachers,” and there’s simply nothing I can do to change that fact.

Rush / Two Kinds of Ex-Wife Memories

“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness and of pain: of strength & freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature, and everlasting beauty of monotony.”
Benjamin Britten

Mention the group Rush (or, if I’m slightly distracted, “Otis Rush” or even “Merrilee Rush”) and I am magically transported back to the 1990 Rush concert where they had giant inflatable rabbits coming out of magician’s hats at the sides of the stage, and during the really rockin’ parts, roadies would shake the rabbits to make it look like they were dancing. Or something. I’ve seen Rush a million times, but my memory connection to that particular concert is not surprising: On that night, my wife was gamely standing next to me, even though she didn’t really like Rush all that much, and she was enormously pregnant with our son Max. During the awesome “Of The Battle” instrumental section of “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” she put my hand on her stomach, and I felt him kick.

My second Rush-related memory is slightly less happy: Driving home from the 1997 Rush show at the Gorge, crying to my friend Ed about my impending divorce and my wife’s barefoot, zen-spouting, much younger boyfriend.

Heart / Painful Rug Burns

“Surely, then, there is need for caution when it comes to dating. It is fine when young people can get together and enjoy one another’s company, but this is best done in groups, rather than for couples to go off alone together on dates. Perhaps parents and other older ones in the congregation can, from time to time, plan picnics or other wholesome get-togethers. On such occasions, however, it is vital that Christians be careful that their conduct at all times reflects well on the God they worship. If you are considering marriage and are regularly dating a prospective mate, it is understandable that you would want to spend some time alone together to discuss personal matters. But you should exercise care that you do not become involved in necking and petting, which can lead to fornication. It is wise to avoid places of isolated privacy that are conducive to lovemaking.”
“Youths, Resist Worldly Pressures!”
“Watchtower” magazine, 4/1/79

“If music be the food of love, play on”
William Shakespeare

Heart is also a memory minefield for me… any Heart song vividly evokes images from a nighttime drive with my friend Jim, circa 1984-ish. Sometime after dark, we drove past the Marysville Dairy Queen, their yellowing reader board advertising a specially-priced “BANANA SUPREME.” We weren’t in Marysville for the fine dining, however. We were there to facilitate a rendezvous between me and Jim’s criminally voluptuous cousin, who I was dating under the radar. To this end, Jim and I showed up unannounced on the doorstep of Jim’s cousin’s parents’ house and hung around awkwardly for the remainder of the evening, making small talk with the adults until someone remarked on how late it had become. Sensing an opening, Jim asked if we could spend the night – seeing as how it was so late, and Jim had worked all day and was much too tired to drive home safely in the dark, and I wasn’t able to drive Jim’s truck because my dad hadn’t yet taught me to drive a stick.

Also, of course, I was hoping to sneak into his cousin’s room and get busy after everyone went to sleep, though we left that part unspoken.

The adults agreed that our reasoning was sound, sleepily handed out pillows and blankets, and went to bed. Under cover of darkness, the clandestine insertion behind enemy lines was successfully executed, and I spent most of the night in Jim’s cousin’s room, doing the sort of things that teenage couples have historically done after the adults have gone to bed. After an impassioned, feverish tussle on the floor, which left us both painfully rug-burnt, she pulled away and looked at me intently.

“Jason, I have something to tell you,” she whispered, and produced a battery-powered cassette player. She fiddled with the tape for a minute, fast-forwarding and then reversing, while I became increasingly freaked out. What was she doing? What if her parents heard us? Even worse: what if she played some music that I hated – like country music, for example – and I had to pretend to enjoy it? Finally, she got the tape cued up, and turned back to face me. She held my hand tenderly, and looked deep into my eyes with some unidentifiable, but obviously profound, sentiment: Grief, maybe, or love, or perhaps some sort of spinal pain.

“This is my song for you,” she told me breathily, with her face much too close to mine, and pressed the “play” button on the cassette deck.

As the opening strains of “Magic Man” by Heart issued forth from the deck, Jim’s cousin, kneeling half-dressed on the white shag carpeting of her bedroom, surrounded by posters of horses, began lip-syncing the words to an audience of one: me. Her commitment to this performance was outstanding; she even pretended she was holding a microphone. Her one-song set was punctuated by various “erotic” gestures and movements: Licking the lips, check. Fondling of breasts, check. Twirling hair around finger, check. To my horror, I realized that she had been practicing for this; she had a whole routine worked out. I sat dumbstruck and terrified, a parody of a grin frozen on my face.

When the song mercifully ended, she pointed at me deliberately and whispered in a pouty Marilyn-Monroe-singing-Happy-Birthday-Mr.-President voice, “You’re MY Magic Man.”

Driving home the next morning, Jim and I passed the Marysville Dairy Queen. During the night, someone (rowdy teenagers no doubt, probably hopped up on goofballs) had rearranged the letters on their reader board, and the special of the day was now proudly advertised as “BANANA SPERM.”

All of that comes back in ultra-vivid high-def, within the first verse of any song by Heart, including “Dog and Butterfly” and/or “Dreamboat Annie.”

Spinal Tap / I (Heart) Jamie Lee Curtis

Mention Spinal Tap and I remember meeting Jamie Lee Curtis at a Spinal Tap concert in 1985, and how incredibly hot she was (and still is; have you seen “Freaky Friday”?), and how she smiled at me, and also how Matt ruined the moment by saying something snide about C. Thomas Howell and “Grandview, U.S.A.”

Way to go, Matt.

All cock-blockery aside, we did get her autograph, so it wasn’t a complete wash.

Teenage Fanclub / Drunken Self-Humiliation

“Music was invented to confirm human loneliness.”
Lawrence Durrell

Frankly, sometimes these memory-associations are a real bummer. I recently went to see one of my all-time favorite bands, Teenage Fanclub. After worshipping their classic jangly power pop for 20 years, I finally got a chance to see them perform live in my hometown. I sang along with every word, grinned blissfully, and was generally euphoric until they played “Start Again.” Before I could even identify the song, my chest tightened and I could no longer sing without risking an embarrassing breakdown. As it happens, I had played that song for my (ex-)wife, trying to convince her not to file for divorce. (It didn’t work.)

But that’s not even the worst of it. Teenage Fanclub had scheduled a concert (co-headlining with Redd Kross, IIRC) here in Seattle, in 1997. I arrived at the club early, to secure a position near the stage. While waiting, I had a couple of beers. The time for the show came and went, but neither of the bands showed up. After loitering for another hour (and drinking several more beers), we were informed that the show had been cancelled; tour bus breakdown or some such nonsense. Supremely disappointed, I was driving home, thinking about that damn “Start Again” song, and about my wife, who was living at a friend’s home while she decided about the divorce. Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea: If I bought some flowers, took them to Jen’s new home, and, you know, expressed my heartfelt love for her, and told her how sorry I was for all the mistakes I had made, (like kissing her best friend)… perhaps she would reconsider, and not divorce me! In the face of my vulnerable declarations of love and remorse, her resolve would surely crumble, and our family would be reunited! At the time, this seemed like a plan that could not fail. In retrospect, it seems possible that my optimism was beer-enhanced. In any case, I stopped at a local supermarket, purchased the flowers, and headed over to Jen’s house on my impulsive mission of reconciliation.

I don’t know what time it was, exactly, but it was late. Stumbling to Jen’s door at the back of the house, I tripped over a sprinkler, and a neighbor’s dog began barking loudly. After pounding on the door for a few minutes, she appeared.

“Uh… hi, Jason. What are you doing here?”

I will spare you the details of the scene that followed, except to say that it ended with me prostrate in the dirt outside the locked door, lowing like an encephalitic cow, and that I jammed the unwanted $13.95 bouquet into Jen’s recycling bin as I staggered back to my car. Oh, one other thing: The entire episode was witnessed by the barefoot, zen-spouting, much younger boyfriend, who happened to be sitting shirtless in Jen’s kitchen at the time.

The Fixx / Edmonds Chamber of Commerce

In the suburbs north of Seattle, there is a quaint little town on the water named Edmonds. They have bumper stickers that you can buy, proclaiming “It’s an EDMONDS kind of day!” There is a little “downtown” area that pretends to be “old timey” with wooden sidewalks, hand-carved shop signs, antique fire hydrants, elaborate popcorn dispensing machines, and store owners wearing straw boaters. One block south, you’ll find the German Pancake Haus (one of my parents’ favorite restaurants), where they serve loganberry crepes and Belgian waffles with bitter, room-temperature coffee. They’ve got a ferry terminal in Edmonds, so there’s a whole other “nautical” design aesthetic mixed in, complete with miniature anchors, wooden seagulls, and plaster barnacles decorating every available surface. Finally, the website of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce calls our attention to their world-renowned “European Style” fountain in the center of it all. Edmonds is a town suffering from a debilitating identity crisis.

To give you the full picture, here is an actual quote from the Greater Edmonds Chamber of Commerce website:

“It is all about service and attitude. People live and work in Edmonds because they want to. Our style of doing business is reflected in this lifestyle choice. So if you need a tooth pulled, require help with other painful extractions like a lawsuit, your tires rotated, your checkbook or mental-state balanced, think Edmonds, think sunset on water, latte and laugh.”

No, I am not making this up.

A few years back (or at least this is how I imagine it), the Edmonds City Council got together to brainstorm ideas for reviving their slowly dying little hamlet. An as-yet-unnamed genius who had taken a few Marketing classes (at Edmonds Community College, natch) proposed that they mount an annual “Food Fest,” spotlighting the entire range of Edmonds culinary excellence; everything from the German Pancake Haus to their arch-rival, Claire’s Pantry.

“We won’t actually call it the ‘Food Fest,’ though,” explained the Marketing guru. “We’ll have to come up with a much more contemporary-sounding name that’ll bring in the 18-35 demographic. Maybe something from hip-hop culture.”

At this event, each local restaurant could sell pre-cooked, smallish portions of their most popular items (such as Loganberry Crepes or Western Omelet) at outlandish prices. Emboldened by this radical suggestion, another council member piped up: “Plus we could have local artisans selling hand-carved seagulls, and a balloon-twisting guy!” Needless to say, once the other council members heard about the hand-carved seagulls and the balloon-twisting guy, the excitement level shot through the roof. Other suggestions were rapidly proposed, seconded, and passed: Elephant Ears were a must-have, and a corn-on-the-cob booth, “…and that machine where you drip paint onto a spinning piece of posterboard!” One of the council members knew a woman who was a professional stilt-dancer, so that was added to the list, and the meeting wasn’t adjourned until the wee hours of the morning.

The following day, the council presented their ideas to the Mayor, and awaited his verdict with hopeful apprehension. Every true citizen of Edmonds can tell you the Mayor’s single-sentence response: “You had me at the balloon-twisting guy.”

Thus was born the “Taste of Edmonds.”

In August 2005, “The Taste” (as it is known by the locals) featured a full schedule of musical acts, encompassing everything from Caribbean Vision (“Tropical Steel Drums”) to Shambala (“Three Dog Night tribute”). On Saturday, in the coveted 2:00-3:30PM slot, right after Jude Bowerman (“High Energy rockin Blues”), and just before The Afrodisiacs (“Disco Party band”), was the only band name that I actually recognized…

A band that some called a “Pink Floyd for the 80’s,” though I couldn’t really tell you why, since they don’t sound or look or behave in any way like Pink Floyd. A band whose lyrically dense, paranoid explorations of personal politics were accented by icy, eurodance rhythms and exotic synth textures. A band who somehow maintained their cred even as they played backup on “You Better Be Good To Me”-era Tina Turner albums. A band featured on the soundtracks of two of the defining American films of the 1980’s: “Fletch” and “Streets of Fire.”

I am speaking, of course, of THE FIXX.

Nobody really listens to The Fixx anymore, which is sad. Well, it’s sad to some people, anyway… People like me, for example, and also the actual members of The Fixx. Although most of the world tuned out after “Phantoms” (1984), I stuck around all the way through “Ink” (1991), even though “How Much Is Enough?” was a weak single. That album still has one of my Top Ten Fixx Songs, “Yesterday, Today.” If forced to choose, I would name “Walkabout” (1986) as their finest album, particularly the unlisted track after “Camphor.” In any case, they’re still together (check out their website!), still touring the world, and they still put out new albums on a semi-regular basis. Unfortunately for them, they are now stuck competing with stilt dancers at the “Taste of Edmonds.”

For me, seeing their name on the “Beer Garden Stage” music schedule brought back a whole lifetime of memories associated with The Fixx.

I remember getting their first album, “Shuttered Room,” as part of my introductory shipment from the Columbia House Music Club, back when they still carried LPs. Because it was a Columbia House knockoff, and not the original release, the LP cover was made of cheap, thick cardboard, with the printed cover art pasted on clumsily. I think that was the time that Jim and I split a membership, and he got the Kinks “One For The Road” 2LP live set.

I remember the hellish experience of seeing The Fixx open for the Police, which is fully documented elsewhere. Honestly, though, I don’t remember much about their actual performance, what with the whooping cough and sleep deprivation and being punched repeatedly in the kidneys by those jocks at the front of the stage. Shudder…

I remember seeing The Fixx at the Paramount on the “Phantoms” tour with a bunch of my close friends, including Paul, Clint, and Ed. In fact, there is a picture in our senior yearbook of Ed in Chemistry class, wearing the t-shirt he bought that night. I remember how the show started with the house lights up. A nondescript roadie wandered on stage and began casually testing the drum levels, but then his testing slowly changed to actual, you know, “drumming,” and the house lights went down, and we realized that the “roadie” was actually the drummer for The Fixx, Adam Woods. Dude, that was cool. At one point during the show, Cy Curnin (the lead singer) strangled the bass player (Dan K. Brown) in silhouette behind a screen. Not quite as awesome as when Ozzy hung a dwarf during “Bark at the Moon,” but still. I remember that Paul, Clint, Ed, and I had our arms around each other’s shoulders, doing some sort of Rockettes kick dance during the show, which… look, I’ll just concede that we were the biggest nerds in the audience, and be done with it.

My most bizarre Fixx-related memory, however, is actually a semi-connected series of events that took place in the days leading up to that Paramount show. My fragmented memories of those days include the following elements:

  • A late-night, allegedly un-chaperoned teen party
  • Back-room interrogations by the church Elders
  • House-sitting with an older girl, and her illicit demands
  • “Hercules 2: The Adventures of Hercules” starring Lou Ferrigno
  • My public denunciation as a God-defying Satanist (or something)

So pull a chair up to the fire, kids, and Uncle Jason will tell you how it all went down, back in the day…

On to Part 2 >>>

4 Comments

  1. Hey, just wanted to say that this was an awesome post about music and memories they elicit. Particularly, I was very interested in what you wrote about the Fixx – I bought the LiveDisc CD set from this concert appearance and really love it. I was wondering – do you have any photos you could share from the concert?

    Thanks!

    Tony

    • Thank YOU, Tony. Sorry, I have no photos other than those in the article. Bummer.

      • That’s too bad, but thank you again for this article.

        What happened at the concert that the Fixx played with the Police?

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